Tips On Letters Of Recommendation
by J.L. Polinard, Pan American University
Writing letters of recommendation for our students is a common endeavor for all pre-law advisors. We sometimes forget that other colleagues, who may be uncertain as to what information law school admission committees find most useful, also are writing such letters. The guidelines below are given to each student seeking a letter of recommendation. The student is encouraged to provide a copy to the person writing the recommendation.
Letter of Recommendation Guidelines
A. To the Student
1. Choose a reference who knows your academic work. Law schools want to know how well you read and write and if you will be able to successfully adjust to the rigors of law school.
- Some private schools with religious affiliations might want a letter attesting to your personal character; otherwise, choose academic references who are familiar with your academic ability.
- If you know an attorney who has graduated from the school to which you are applying, ask for a reference.
- Do not ask public officials to write on your behalf; admissions officers tend to ignore letters written by public officials.
2. Provide your reference with the following:
- An unofficial transcript.
- A personal resume, including a clear statement of your intent to go to law school.
- A list of courses you have taken with the reference. Indicate what grades you made and any outstanding work you did for the class (copies of term papers, essays, tests, etc. are helpful).
- Relevant forms provided by the law schools. If the law school provides a form, there will be a place on the form for you to indicate whether you waive the right to have access to your file. Admissions officers may discount letters where the student has not signed the waiver.
- A stamped envelope addressed to the law school. While I recommend strongly the reference send this recommendation on their letterhead stationary, you should provide the envelope as a courtesy.
B. To the Reference
1. The law school admissions process is very competitive. Please write as specific a letter as possible, bearing in mind that a law school admissions committee wants to know primarily how well the student reads and writes, if the student is capable of adapting to the discipline of law school, and will the student reflect credit on their law school.
2. Be specific about the student's coursework. Was the course a demanding one? How well did the student perform both oral and written assignments? Did the student do anything in particular which stands out in your mind; e.g., did the student write a term paper or essay which you considered superior? If so, indicate the topic and why it was a superior work. Note the student's potential for intellectual development.
3. Indicate how long and in what capacity you have known the student. If you are familiar with non-academic achievements (e.g., extra-curricular activities), please note these. Also note other background characteristics which may be useful (e.g., work experience, bi-lingual ability).
4. Please forward your letter directly on letterhead stationary. I recommend using a letterhead envelope instead of a stamped envelope provided by the student. Please do not give the original letter to the student to send to the law school; Pre-Law Advisors National Council is trying to persuade the law schools to quit asking students to collect their letters of reference and mail them as a package. It is important, in other words, to eliminate the question of confidentiality.